Vote displays regime's new take on reality
Gabriel Garcia Marquez said it best: "When you reach absolute power, there is no contact with reality.""A powerful person, a dictator, is surrounded by interests and people whose final aim is to isolate him from reality."
He was talking about Latin America, but he might as well have been talking about the tropics, occupying the same equatorial latitudes, nursing the same plagues, enduring the same nightmares.
The reality of the authoritarian state is one that is perched between paranoia and ego, compelling them to an implacable sense of insecurity that in turn drives them to tighten their screw of power. Losing that power, their alternate reality crumbles. When that happens, they have two choices: they go into exile or they go mad. On a bad day, both.
That's why they will do everything to preserve their version of reality -- the reality that excludes the people. Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, Field Marshal Prapas Charusathien and Col Narong Kittikachorn used violence to perpetuate that reality. Other coup-makers, either wise or scared, formed dictatorial reality only to relinquish it before it rotted in their hands -- such as in 2006.
Tired of gunshots, and with aspirations of being respectable, the present-day junta resorts to glib lectures on television, colourful, maddening, fantastical, and altogether teetering on the surreal (99% democracy, a soaring economy, a good bargain for the 3.5-km high-speed train, a free and fair referendum, the promise of equality while threatening to axe the universal healthcare scheme, etc).
The purpose is to maintain the reality created in the vision of the state. Hammering it home often enough, they believe, will prompt people to buy into this reality.
Foreign diplomats summoned to hear the lectures may buy into it regardless of what the facts state. But Reality bites, unless it's your own tailor-made, fishbowl reality.
On the subject of the Aug 7 referendum, we're seeing many examples of a disconnected reality; the state is on the verge of making Einstein proud by successfully creating a parallel universe. As the date nears, authorities have intensified their efforts to snub different opinions, to discourage questions, and anything that points to the shortcomings of the draft constitution is now deemed "distorted", "fake" and outright illegal.
In what kind of twisted reality are we in if pointing out the flaws in the charter can land you in jail for 10 years?
If carting off dissenters is what it takes to pass through the piece of literature that will govern the entire nation, then it's not hard to tell who the writers of fake reality are.
Thirteen activists were arrested and jailed on June 23 for distributing leaflets that offer an alternative reading of the constitution; it took two weeks for them to be released following calls from academics and embassy representatives.
In that absurd universe, even a journalist covering the "Vote No" activists was detained and released the next day. On Monday, police and soldiers raided the office of news website Prachatai to search for documents suspected of violating the referendum law. Then came a joint call by the European Union, the United States and Canada for the state to open the space for the discussion of the charter, and yet they remain adamant in their version of "fairness", which naturally means the voiceless "No" and the megaphone of "Yes".
Dizzied by the vastness of the non-dictatorial world, the Yes squad scrambles to uphold their flimsy reality, to insist that only their view is authentic while the rest is bogus, corrupt, dissenting, distorted or simply lobbied by Thaksin Shinawatra (who himself knows a thing or two about alternative realities).
And when all plans go bust, the superhero of Section 44 is always at the ready to blast everything into smithereens: On Thursday, the coup-makers authorised the Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission to close down any media that fails to cooperate with the junta or presents information deemed as a threat to national security.
What's next? Newspapers? Dimension warped, we're back in the 1970s. The junta's isolation from reality only grows starker.
We're three weeks from Aug 7, but just a few steps away from the "Vote No" being outlawed. It's bad enough that the referendum is an oversimplification of the world's ugliness and beauty -- the reduction of the complex reality of politics and life into the two choices of Yes or No. Now it's worse, because that complexity is squashed into just one choice: Yes. Or rather, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes…
Kong Rithdee is Life Editor, Bangkok Post.
Bangkok Post columnist
Kong Rithdee is a Bangkok Post columnist. He has written about films for 18 years with the Bangkok Post and other publications, and is one of the most prominent writers on cinema in the region.